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Friday, May 13, 2016

Golden State Versus Oklahoma City Preview

Western Conference Finals

#1 Golden State (73-9) vs. #3 Oklahoma City (55-27)

Season series: Golden State, 3-0

Oklahoma City can win if...the Thunder's dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to play at an All-NBA First Team--if not MVP--level while the Thunder's platoon of big men dominate the paint.

Durant (28.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.0 apg) and Westbrook (25.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 10.5 apg) were both magnificent as the Thunder eliminated the 67-15 San Antonio Spurs, 4-2. The Thunder won four of the last five games of the series, including two victories in San Antonio (where the Spurs went 40-1 during the regular season).

Thunder big men Steven Adams (11.0 ppg, 11.8 rpg, .703 FG%), Serge Ibaka (11.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, team-high 12 3FGM) and Enes Kanter (8.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg) had a major impact versus San Antonio at both ends of the court.

Golden State will win because...the Warriors feature a three-headed monster (two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson) plus a deep and versatile supporting cast.

Injuries kept Curry out of action for three of the five games versus Portland but when he played he was terrific, averaging 34.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 9.5 apg. He scored 17 points in overtime of game four (his first game in two weeks), breaking Clyde Drexler's record for most points in a playoff overtime session (13, set in 1992).

Green leads the Warriors in playoff mpg (37.6), rebounds (10.4 rpg), assists (7.0 apg), steals (1.6 spg) and blocked shots (2.3 bpg) while ranking third in scoring (17.7 ppg, 3.7 ppg better than his regular season average).

Thompson leads the Warriors in playoff ppg (27.2 ppg in 10 games; Curry is averaging 24.8 ppg in four games) while shooting .474 from the field overall and .475 from three point range.

Shaun Livingston filled in capably for Curry when Curry was hurt, 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala remains an excellent two-way performer and Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights continue to make timely contributions.

Other things to consider: The Thunder blew more fourth quarter leads than any team in the NBA during the regular season, though that statistic is a little deceptive since several of those "leads" were two points or less. Still, it was reasonable to expect that the 67-15 San Antonio Spurs would be more poised than the Thunder and execute more efficiently--but that did not prove to be the case at all; the Oklahoma City-San Antonio series was bookended by blowouts (one by each team) but during the meat of the series the Thunder not only executed better than the Spurs but, as San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich repeatedly mentioned, the Thunder played with more toughness, energy and effort. The Thunder outrebounded the Spurs by nearly eight rebounds per game and those extra possessions more than nullified San Antonio's advantage in the turnover department. When San Antonio went small in the second half of game six, Thunder Coach Billy Donovan--who made some great strategic moves throughout the series after the Thunder were routed in game one--correctly stayed with his big lineup and the Thunder bludgeoned the Spurs to death in the paint. Golden State cannot match up with Oklahoma City's size, so look for the Warriors to use progressively smaller lineups during this series; if the Thunder try to go small, this will work in Golden State's favor (even though the Thunder do have a good small ball lineup) but if the Thunder stay big, keep their turnovers to a minimum and attack the paint then they can pose a lot of problems for the Warriors.

In my Spurs-Thunder series preview, I laid out the blueprint for a Thunder victory--but I could not quite convince myself that the Thunder would pull it off, so I picked the Spurs. Perhaps this Warriors-Thunder preview will be "deja vu all over again"; I have spent a lot of time describing how the Thunder could win, yet I am picking the Warriors. The Thunder are a very dangerous team; if they stay healthy and if they play correctly, they absolutely can win the championship. Perhaps the best way to summarize my take is this: The Thunder are a championship caliber team in a "normal" season but the Warriors are a historically great team, the kind of team that is only seen once every 15-20 years. The Thunder are capable of beating the Warriors but the likelihood is that Golden State will prevail. If these teams played a seven game series 100 times under the same conditions, I would probably expect Golden State to win 60 times.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 PM